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Pell's lawyer accuses police

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Cardinal George Pell’s barrister has accused police of failing to follow guidelines for investigating prominent people as the senior cleric fights historical sex offence charges.

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The 76-year-old faced Melbourne Magistrates Court on Monday for the start of a four-week hearing that will decide if he stands trial on the charges involving multiple complainants, which he denies.

Defence barrister Robert Richter QC said a former judge had prepared a report about how police should investigate prominent people.

“It is a guide to police about how to fairly investigate claims against prominent people,” he told the court.

“We say that was not followed because there was a presumption of guilt.”

Pell’s legal team had made submissions on that issue to police and to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the barrister added.

Richter also said police had 21 witness statements provided by the defence that were favourable to the cardinal.

“These documents are certainly relevant to the alleged offences,” he said.

“I know it doesn’t suit the prosecution because they are exculpatory of the cardinal.”

The court was open to the public for 25 minutes before adjourning until Monday afternoon, when it will be closed as the first complainant begins giving evidence.

Prosecutors on Friday withdrew one of the charges, relating to a complainant who died after the criminal proceedings began in 2017.

The former Sydney and Melbourne archbishop and Ballarat priest is the highest-ranking Catholic official to be charged with sexual abuse.

The current hearing is expected to be closed to the public and media for two weeks while the complainants give their evidence, as required by law in sexual offence cases.

At the end of the four-week proceeding, it will be up to Magistrate Belinda Wallington to decide if there is enough evidence for the case to go to trial in the Victorian County Court.

Dozens of Australian and international journalists on Monday joined a queue to cover the case, including representatives of the BBC, CNN, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Swedish National Radio.

Pell will not have to enter a formal plea unless committed to stand trial, but Richter told his client’s first court appearance last July that Pell will plead not guilty to all charges.

Pell has taken leave from his position as the Vatican’s Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy to fight the charges.

– AAP

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